October of 2006, I was flown to The Gourmet Institute held over a weekend in New York City. I arrived on a Thursday, caught a great Broadway show starring Martin Short, Fame Becomes Me, afterwards enjoyed a cupcake decorated in a Halloween theme from Junior’s, and got ready for the highly anticipated weekend of events.
The weekend began with a Welcome Gala at Buddakan. At the Gala, I was able to meet two major influences in the culinary world: Ruth Reichl and Tom Colicchio. The three hour event was amazing – great food, delicious drinks, amazing setting, and I got to talk to Ruth?! And the weekend was just beginning!
From 9am until 4:30pm, I had four seminars/demonstrations scheduled at Gourmet Institute. Chef Charlie Palmer started my morning off with discussing and cooking Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Creamy Mascarpone Polenta and Warm Roasted Pepper Salad. Next, Chef Palmer made Spice-Crusted Duck Breast with Toasted Pinenut Couscous Campari Rhubarb and Orange-Scented Fennel. Not my typical breakfast, but I wasn’t complaining! Chef Jacques Torres was next in line and spent an hour discussing chocolate. I was in Heaven. After tasting a variety of chocolate concoctions, there was some down time for book signing. I was able to meet several chefs, but Chef Thomas Keller was the highlight of the day. Everyone I met, from Anthony Bourdain to Scott Conant, was so friendly and willing to talk. I wish I could have had more time!
After the break, Chefs Daniel Boulud, Gilles Verot, and Mark Fiorentino prepared Liberty Farm Duck Tourte with Figs and Rillettes de Lapin Aux Olives (Rabbit with Olives). Daniel Johnnes, Wine Director for The Dinex Group, paired the dishes with Philippe Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec (2003). The rillettes was my favorite tasting by far! Chef Verot is a master of Head Cheese, and we were able to taste his Fromage de Tete. Head Cheese, in my opinion, is like coffee. You have to have it often, and the taste grows on you. I was just happy that this was served after my lunch break. Head Cheese for breakfast is asking a lot. Next, I tasted Spiced Seven-hour Braised Leg of Lamb. Both tastings were served with Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rouge (2002). After amazing tastes from equally amazing chefs, I went to a seminar on cheese by Ihsan Gurdal, a fine cheese, meats and specialty food purveyor. He travels the world to find amazing products to sell in the U.S. I never realized how competitive and tricky his business can be. It makes sense. When a small cheese maker in a tiny village in France has a small amount of cheese to sell, you have to have an amazing connection with that farmer in order to get him to sell to you. It was an eye opening talk, and tasting cheese and wine during was icing on the cake! To end the evening, Chef Scott Conant prepared an amazing meal for a small number of us in a private room at Alto. Of course, the food was amazing, but I loved the fact that during the cocktail hour Veuve Cliquot Rose was being served. What better way to start a meal? (FYI, Veuve Cliquot is one of my favorite things in the world.)
Sunday began with a cooking demonstration by Sara Moulton, who focused on inserting an International flair into home cooked meals. My next seminar was with Chef Thomas Keller and Keith Martin, owner and operator of the farm Elysian Fields Sheep Farm in Pennsylvania and Elysian Field brand lamb. Chef Keller gets his lamb from Mr. Martin, and I can see why. We compared his lamb chop to a Colorado lamb chop. I could have listened to these two guys all day! The meat was outstanding. Martin’s love for each of his animals was so apparent, and it truly makes a difference in the quality of the meat. A few days after I returned to San Diego, a box of meat arrived from Elysian Field with a variety of cuts. What a nice welcome home package!
At this point, it was break time and I went to the Good Living Travel Pavilion where I could sample cheeses, beverages, cupcakes, and get a massage. Anthony Bourdain was a walking around with a “Hello” nametag with the name “Rachel Ray”. He has a sense of humor! After lunch, I spent the next hour with Norman Weinstein who discussed knife skills. In 2006, he had been already been teaching for 29 years. The hour flew by with his energetic approach to teaching. What a great teacher!
The last session was going behind the scenes in Gourmet’s Test Kitchens. I was able to see where each chef tries out and perfects new recipes. It is a dream job!!
When I think back to the event, my only regret was that I didn’t take more pictures! Fortunately, I have so many great memories from the weekend and I learned (and ate!!) a lot. The weekend was overwhelming and amazing! I wish I could do it again!!